“Your Word Is Truth”
‘Teach Us to Pray’
A GOOD, warm relationship with others is difficult to develop and maintain without some kind of communication. Likewise, a close relationship with the Creator, Jehovah God, cannot be preserved without communication with him through prayer. Appreciating this, Christian parents are concerned about teaching their children how to pray. What they teach, of course, should be based on the Bible, God’s Word of truth. The example of Jesus Christ in teaching his disciples about prayer can serve as a pattern for parents, particularly dedicated Christian fathers.
When Jesus Christ finished praying on a certain occasion, one of his disciples approached him, saying: “Lord, teach us how to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.” Answering this request, Jesus set forth a model or a pattern for prayer: “Whenever you pray, say, ‘Father, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Give us our bread for the day according to the day’s requirement. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone that is in debt to us; and do not bring us into temptation.’”—Luke 11:1-4.
In giving this model prayer, Jesus did not have in mind that it be memorized by his followers and thereafter regularly repeated. This is evident from the fact that Jesus had, on an earlier occasion, used different wording when presenting the same model prayer. (Matt. 6:9-13) At that time he prefaced the prayer with the words: “When praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words. So, do not make yourselves like them, for God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.”—Matt. 6:7, 8.
Accordingly, Christian parents, using Jesus’ model prayer as a basis, can help their children to see what matters are properly a subject of prayer—the sanctification of God’s name, the coming of God’s kingdom against its enemies, daily needs and forgiveness of sins. Of course, many other prayers are recorded in the Bible, especially in Psalms, and these can be used for additional instruction.
After giving the model prayer, Jesus presented an illustration highlighting Jehovah’s willingness to answer prayers. Applying the illustration, Jesus said: “If you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!” (Luke 11:13) Parents can imitate Jesus’ example by aiding their children to appreciate that Jehovah God does indeed hear and answer prayers. One good way parents can do this is by telling how Jehovah has answered their own personal prayers.
For teaching about prayer to reach the hearts of children, they must be able to see that their parents rely on Jehovah God for guidance in handling matters of life. The depth of devotion and gratitude their father expresses in representing the family in heartfelt prayer can have a wholesome effect on them. It can move them to approach Jehovah in prayer.
Children should also be taught the proper way of approaching God in prayer. The need for this might be shown by an illustration from real life. When visiting a friend, for example, a person makes known that he has arrived; he does not simply walk into the home. In many lands this is done by knocking on the door. Similarly, there is a proper way of approaching God, the Universal Sovereign, and that is through Jesus Christ. To his disciples Jesus said: “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”—John 14:6, 14.
As children hear the prayers of others, they will note that often at the beginning of the prayer the supplications and expressions of thanks are offered in Jesus’ name and the prayer is concluded in Jesus’ name. Having been taught that God’s Son instructed that prayers be offered in his name, children will do so too.
Children will also observe that prayers are usually concluded with the word “Amen.” So it would be good to explain to them the significance of this term. It means “truly,” “so be it.” “Amen” implies strong approval of the prayer, confidence in God’s ability to answer it and earnest hope that he will do so.
When the family is together, the Christian father usually represents the mother and the children in prayer. But he wants to be sure that his children are motivated to pray on their own. Therefore it would be good for the father to point out that in his case family prayer is not enough, for he has personal matters to pray about. He can encourage his children to do likewise, perhaps before going to bed or after getting up in the morning. Also, by word and example, he can impress upon his children that prayers should not be repetitious. When the hearts of children are motivated aright, they will express themselves freely to their heavenly Father.
At first the prayers of children may be very brief. But, if these prayers stem from an appreciative heart, they have value in the eyes of Jehovah God. Jesus, in one of his illustrations, described a tax collector as praying in due humility, “O God, be gracious to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) That sincere prayer, though brief, had far greater value than that of the proud Pharisee who prayed: “O God, I thank you I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give the tenth of all things I acquire.”—Luke 18:11, 12.
So if the teaching of parents is in harmony with God’s Word, they do not have to be excessively anxious about what their children are saying in private prayers to Jehovah. As long as their hearts are properly motivated, the children will continue to make spiritual progress. In fact, parents may need to exercise care that they do not hinder their children from expressing themselves freely, from the heart, in their personal prayers. Obviously a human father would not appreciate it if his wife saw to it that all his children expressed themselves in precisely the same way when thanking him or asking him for something. Jehovah God feels no different about it, for he made man in his image. Hence parents can rejoice when their teaching and good example motivate their children to the point of praying to God on their own, using their own words.
In summary, then, when teaching children how to pray, parents can concentrate on building up in these little ones appreciation for Jehovah God, the Hearer of prayer. They will also want to discuss why prayer is essential and what things are a matter of prayer. The Bible should be the basis for such instruction, because it contains the truth about such matters. The example of parents should also reflect deep appreciation for Jehovah God and the provision of prayer. Such teaching by word and example takes real effort. But it is well worth it.